The Silver Chest

The Silver Chest

The Silver Chest was first published in 2014 and is sometimes known by its alternative title, Chest of Wishes. It is an urban fantasy novella that was written by multi-national writing duo Zhu Hsia and Natashiah Jansen and weaves a short morality tale about being careful what you wish for.

Mark has always been deeply in love with the beautiful Isis but knows that they can never be together. Although he is studying to be a dentist, he is still just a humble farmer’s son while she is the heiress to a great fortune. Even though she shares his love, Mark knows that her father will never agree to a marriage unless he can prove that he can provide for her. As Isis’s brother is pushing for her to wed a rich aristocrat, it seems as though they will never be together.

Fortunately, Mark’s friend George quickly comes to the rescue. He has discovered the location of the original Book of the Dead and tells Mark that if they can find and sell it they will both be set for life. Ignoring all signs that the books should be left alone, the two set off into the desert and quickly retrieve it for themselves. As they read from the book, they uncover a strange incantation that causes a small chest to appear before them. Prising the chest open, they find it to be empty but they soon learn that if they wish for something in front of the chest, the item that they desire will appear before them.

A soothsayer warns the two men that they should only take what they need and Mark heeds this warning. However, George is increasingly consumed by his greed and begins to desire more and more. As Mark investigates the true nature of the chest, it becomes readily apparent that it is far more sinister than he could have imagined. He knows that he needs to find a way to break its hold over George but doing so leaves him to make a difficult choice. If he saves his friend, he could loose Isis forever…

The Silver Chest is an incredibly short eBook and can easily be read in one sitting. In tone, it reads as a kind of adult fairy tale. It felt as though it took more than a little from W.W. Jacobs classic The Monkey’s Paw, in that the primary focus was an object that granted wishes. While The Silver Chest is not quite as clever as this story, it does have the same general message of being careful of what you wish for. Its Egyptian setting also gave it an air of one of the Arabian Nights stories. Having the protagonist as a young man who longs for a woman above his station and finally being able to court her due to the help of magic and wishes comes directly from Aladdin.

However the story does not really use its short word count very efficiently. While it is fast moving and at least is never boring, it does rely heavily on plot exposition. This is particularly noticeable towards the start and end of the novella, in which the story roles to a stand-still in order for the authors to relay the back-story via hefty blocks of text. In a longer novel this could have been gradually revealed over the course of the story but for a novella this just felt as though the authors were trying to cram in too much. Novellas are at their most effective when they are concise and focused and this one just felt as though it was trying to include enough story for a full length novel into just under sixty pages. The novella also ended remarkably suddenly, leaving me waiting for a payoff that never came. With all of the build-up regarding how the chest worked I was anticipating a dark twist and was left disappointed when it never came.

Looking at the text itself, I was also struck by a number of strange linguistic choices. I’m not sure if English is not the authors’ first language (I notice in the blurb that they live in Hong Kong and Egypt respectively) but there is a certain clumsiness in the writing that is hard to put my finger on. Dialogue always feels somewhat forced and unnatural, preventing the characters from feeling like real people. Certain words are also used a little too frequently for my liking. Creatures are referred to as being “heinous” on no less than four occasions, while people frequently give each other “toothy grins”. In such a short novella, this repetition is very noticeable and made me wish that the authors used more variety in their choice of descriptors.

I was also left confused as to who the target audience was supposed to be for this story. I won my copy of this novel as part of a giveaway on LibraryThing where it was listed as being for young adults, yet the story did not seem to be targeted at them in any way. The plot centred on a twenty-something year old finishing university and thinking about settling down. There was also a scene involving a belly dancer and her “melon sized breasts” that felt as though it went a little too far for a teen novel (for this reason, I would probably advise that younger teens give it a miss).

Finally, I think I should talk about the characters. No one in the novel made much of an impression for me. Mark and George were well rounded to a degree (although Mark felt to be a little too nice for his own good) but none of the other characters really appeared at all within the tale. Even Isis, the love interest, only appeared during exposition dumps and so did not make her presence actually felt at all. Because of this, I’m a little confused as to how the novella can be marketed as a romance story. Surely it can’t be viewed as being romantic if both characters never appear on the same page?

Sorry that this review is a little short side but, due to the length of the novella, I don’t have a lot to say. The Silver Chest is a very short ebook and because of this I never felt bored reading it. That said, it does have a lot of issues. It contains an awful lot of back-story which is delivered entirely through exposition, borrowed a lot from other popular sources, contained some very clumsy dialogue and just did not seem to be targeted at a young adult audience. I’ve reviewed worse stories than this but I still found this novella to be very underwhelming and would not really recommend it.

The Silver Chest can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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